THE injury-plagued Cowboys will be forced to blood another debutant with 18-year-old rookie Enari Tuala set to play in tonight’s blockbuster with Cronulla.
With fullback Lachlan Coote (knee) racing the clock to be fit, the Edmonton Storm junior is the only outside back on the 21-man squad’s bench.
If Coote is ruled out, Tuala will make to make his debut at centre with Kalyn Ponga shifting to his preferred fullback role and Javid Bowen moving from centre to wing.
It is unclear whether the Cowboys were required to get clearance from the NRL after coach Paul Green said last week their injury crisis had stretched their second-tier cap to the limit.
Tuala would be the sixth Cowboy to debut this year after Patrick Mago, Gideon Gela-Mosby, Kyle Laybutt, Corey Jensen and Braden Uele, none of whom are in the top 25 squad.
Tuala was impressive in the Cowboys’ NRL trial match against the Roosters in Mackay in February.
Green said he would give Coote until today to prove his fitness after he got through yesterday’s training session.
But with him not training the rest of the week after falling awkwardly in a tackle against Penrith, no risks will be taken with the fullback.
“He got through the session and we’ll see how he pulls up tomorrow. It’s touch and go, (he’s) racing the clock to see if he’s fit for this week,” Green said.
Asked if Tuala would be his replacement, Green said: “We’ll have a look, we’ve got a couple of options there but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
In better news for the Cowboys, five-eighth Te Maire Martin looks set to return from one game out with a knee injury after training strongly this week.
“Te Maire got through the session too, I expect him to play,” Green said.
“I thought Te Maire was getting some nice combos before he hurt his knee, hopefully he can continue to improve in that area.”
The Cowboys are battling to keep their place in the top eight after three straight losses and need to win at least one of their last three games to make finals.
Cronulla will be just as desperate in coming off poor losses to Canberra and Brisbane.
“Brisbane was up for that one, they played with plenty of intensity,” Green said.
Meanwhile, Green said the Cowboys would not have to offload players, and could potentially go to the market, if the Rugby League Players’ Association signs off on a $9.4 million salary unanimously approved by the clubs on Thursday.
Cowboys chairman Lawrence Lancini has been vocal in opposing the cap being pushed up to $9.6 million after a handful of clubs overspent for 2018.
“He (Lancini) wants to make sure the club maintains a margin so we can be sustainable,” Green said.
“If it’s at 9.4 we’ll be fine, we might even be able to go shopping.”